It is embarassing because he’s right. The union does have a problem with institutional antisemitism. Engage has been providing the evidence for this for years now. Here for example.
Nobody in the union hates Jews; it isn’t that sort of antisemitism. Institutional antisemitism is the result of sets of norms, practices and shared commonsense assumptions which create an environment within the union which is hostile to Jews, even if nobody intends to create such an environment.
That the atmosphere within the union isn’t experienced as being hostile by a small number of antizionist Jews does not tell us that it isn’t hostile to Jews in general. The analogy is with pornographic pictures on the walls of a workplace. It creates a hostile environment for women. It isn’t an answer to produce a number of individual women who will swear that they like the pictures and they don’t feel that it creates a hostile environment.
It is embarassing because he’s right, it is embarassing because our union, which is normally hot on institutional racism when it is found in academic instutions, even when it is not intended, has failed to free itself from its own institutional racism.
It is embarassing becasue Pickles is a minister in a government which is doing serious, deep and widespread damage to further and higher education; our union is supposed to be defending education; Pickles has found our union’s weak spot and has begun to poke around in it.
It is embarassing because Pickles’ argument is a kind of warmed up re-hashing of the argument which has been put forward by UCU activists who care about our union and who want our union to be stronger, not weaker.
It is embarassing becasue Pickles has got some of his facts muddled up. He bungles the Bongani Masuku story. He is wrong to say that UCU has been boycotting Israeli academics. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
The issue of antisemitism is now seriously degrading our union’s ability to defend us, its members and to defend education in the UK against the current government.
The union needs to deal with its institutional antisemitism for two reasons.
1. It is wrong, in itself, to tolerate a situation where Jews are intimidated and pushed out of their own union.
2. It is making us an easy target of the Tory government just at the moment when we need to be strong and united.
The boycott campaign is an antisemitic campaign – it wants our union to treat Israeli academics in a way which is different from all other academics who live in states which violate human rights norms. It has imported antisemitic ways of thinking into our union.
Engage is a pro-union left-wing campaign. The fight against antisemitism in our union is now, more than ever, a necessary part of the fight against the Tory cuts to education.